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Best garden watering system 2020: irrigation without irritation

The best garden watering systems, including automatic timers, irrigation systems and handy planters

The best watering system may be less useful this summer, as you probably won’t be venturing too far on holiday. However, that doesn’t mean they are of no use. It’s all very well spending ages walking around your garden with a hose or watering can but if you really want to keep your lawn and flowerbeds looking lush and bountiful with as little effort as possible, the best watering systems will take the guesswork out of it. They will refresh your lawn while you get on with enjoying a barbecue or pizza oven.

• One of the first things you’ll need is a decent hosepipe which, as luck would have it, we have written about in our best hose roundup.

Right, now you’re back with us, the next thing you’ll need is an automatic water-scheduling controller or even a full-blown irrigation system with a confluence of water pipes to feed the borders and seedlings.

Potted plants are usually the first things to wilt on a hot summer’s day so fitting a drip irrigation system is also a damn good idea. Or perhaps invest in a self-watering or water regulating planter.

There are loads of different types of automatic watering systems and self-watering planters on the market but, to save you the head-scratching, we’ve scoured the web for the best automated systems for those you can’t be bothered to unravel a hose.

  • Best lawn sprinklers 2020
  • Best garden hoses 2020
  • Best garden hose guns 2020
  • Best cordless lawn mowers 2020

Watering systems running dry in shops?

Some of our favourite gardening products not surprisingly keep selling out at the moment as everyone plans for the summer ahead. If you find a product we’ve recommended isn’t available via the provided retail link, try these retailers who usually stock some very good alternatives.

In the UK:

In the US:

1. OMORC Automatic Water Timer

Best automatic timer for price and function
Reasons to buy

If you’re looking for something more sophisticated than a simple twist timer like the Gardena reviewed below, then consider this cracking fully-auto battery-powered entry from Amazon player OMORC. For the price (under £25), it offers loads of handy automation like daily timers (every day to odd days), length of watering, plus a rain delay button which you need to manually tap if precipitation is on the horizon. It also has a child lock so youngsters can’t screw things up.

The big LCD screen is a major plus here because it’s so thoughtfully laid out and easy to understand without so much as a glance at the manual. The battery remaining icon is a big bonus too and, speaking of batteries, you’ll need to buy a couple of AAs because it doesn’t come with any. Like most water timers, the OMORC comes with two sizes of outdoor tap connector plus a selection of different rubber washers.

This is an ideal system to use when going away for a period of time. Just make sure it’s all connected to your sprinkler or irrigation system and rest in the knowledge that you won’t come home to an arid landscape. An excellent value timer that isn’t an Amazon top seller for nothing.

2. Gardena Water Timer

Save water with this simple but effective manual water timer from Gardena
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid

One of the worst things about a sprinkler system is that it’s all too easy to forget to turn the damn thing off. You set it off at 6pm and carry on with life as usual, only noticing at bedtime that the sprinkler’s still running. This is not only a gross waste of precious water but if you have a water meter fitted, you’ll likely receive a whopping bill from the water supplier for your absent-mindedness. Your flowers won’t be too happy either.

What you need is a dead simple spring-loaded timer like this brilliant model from Gardena. Simply screw it onto the outdoor tap (it comes with two sizes of tap connector), push and clip the hose to the unit’s outlet and turn the dial (rather like an old fashioned cooking timer) to anywhere between five and 120 minutes. Boom, the sprinkler springs to life and stops roughly at the time you set. If using a hose gun for an undefined period of time, simply turn the dial to continuous and water will flow for as long as you have your finger on the trigger.

No batteries involved with this little baby, just a simple twist is all that’s required. In fact, it’s so easy my cat uses it to scare away the neighbourhood toms.

3. Bosch GardenPump 18

An excellent water butt alternative to using the tap
Reasons to buy

This new ecological irrigation pump from Bosch is a brilliant watering solution for those with a water butt on their land. Instead of having to faff about with watering cans, the GardenPump 18 uses cordless technology to pump water from the butt through your hosepipe to a water gun or sprinkler.

Simply mount the battery control unit to a wall or wooden post next to the butt, feed in the supplied suction hose with pump attached and loop the hose guide over the lip of the butt. Now grab a pre-charged Bosch 18v 2.5aH battery from your tool shed – or purchase one online – and clip it into the control unit. The whole shebang is now ready to plug in a hose and get watering without increasing your already extortionate water bill.

Against all odds, this cordless pump pushes out about 10 litres of water a minute and produces a spray with a very decent reach; not a dribble as you might expect. The Bosch GardenPump 18 works efficiently with hoses up to 25m in length.

For outright eco-friendly convenience this efficient garden gadget takes some beating. It’s not too pricey either.

4. HOZELOCK SENSOR CONTROLLER PLUS

A top easy-to-use timer with light sensor
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid

If you take your gardening duties seriously enough to stick to a strict twice-a-day watering regime, you’ll save a lot of time and effort by fitting an automated water scheduling system like this model from Hozelock. It will also assuage the pain of returning from holiday only to find that your lush Garden of Eden has turned into a desertscape of Karoo proportions.

To use, simply bung in a couple of AA batteries, attach the unit to your tap and plug the hose into the other side. The controller is fitted with a daylight sensor that automatically opens the taps at dawn and dusk, keeping your lawn, flowerbeds or greenhouse plants in tip-top condition. You can easily set the number of days required and even how long you want the watering session to last, from two to 60 minutes. And if you ever need to use the hose outside of the scheduled periods, just tap the grey Water Now button and squirt.

This convenient garden nanny works well with any standard hosepipe/sprinkler combo. Nevertheless, despite the fact it has a light sensor fitted, it’s not quite up the mark set by the excellent OMORC reviewed above.

5. Gardena AquaBloom solar-powered irrigation

Efficient solar-powered pot watering system
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid

Rainfall alone is rarely enough to sate the appetite of the average pot plant which can dry out in a matter of hours if left unattended in the midsummer sun. The trouble is, few of us ever remember to grab the watering can, only realising this mistake when the geraniums start taking on the appearance of a pressed flower from grandma’s Dickens collection.

Well here comes Gardena to the rescue with a competent but slightly eccentric contraption comprised of a bucket of water, a solar-powered pump, some irrigation tubes and a pile of pressure-compensation drippers. You can pretty much guess how it works. Simply fill the bucket with water (preferably with a lid on top to slow evaporation), feed the provided tube to up to 20 pots at a time and attach the drippers. Now connect it all to the solar pump and choose one of 14 pre-defined watering programs.

Voila, water is automatically drawn from the bucket and drip fed to every pot on the patio without you so much as lifting a finger.

6. Lechuza Cottage Balconera

Handy self-watering planter for the absent minded
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid

This writer was sent this 79cm long plastic rattan-patterned outdoor planter last August and I promptly planted five pansies in it. I also planted another ten pansies in some standard pots. Three or four weeks later, the flowers in the Lechuza Balconera had exploded to five times their initial size, almost obscuring the planter in a festoon of pretty petals. By contrast, the same flowers in the other pots looked much smaller and far less happy, despite having been watered on a regular basis. More surprisingly, come December, the Lechuza flowers were still in full bloom while all the others had wilted away. So how does the Lechuza do it?

In a nutshell, it uses sub-irrigation (basically a reservoir of water beneath a suspended soil basket) to keep plants permanently moist, seemingly for weeks at a time. It also comes with a visible gauge that tells you when to put more water into the base using the handy built-in funnel. A pair of brackets is included for mounting it on a balcony railing.

Lechuza produces a massive range of both outdoor and indoor planters in numerous sizes and styles. Given that potted plants (especially indoor ones) are so often forgotten about, a system like this really does make a big difference. Highly recommended.

7. Kärcher SensoTimer ST6 Duo Ecologic

Comprehensive soil sensing water timer
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid

If you’re a horticultural connoisseur and are a bit tech savvy, consider installing this effective water management system from Kärcher.

The SensoTimer package is comprised of two spiked 9v battery-powered sensors that measure soil moisture and a 9v battery-powered control box that screws onto any outdoor tap. Unlike the majority of self-timers, this one comes with two hose outlets that can water two different sections of the garden at different times. All you need to do is install an irrigation system or sprinkler (any brand will do), and the system will take care of all your watering needs.

Crucially, Kärcher has elected to avoid wi-fi communication between the sensor and the base unit because, well, we all know how unreliable wi-fi is. Instead, the system uses rock-steady radio waves to send signals every 30 minutes from the soil sensor to the base. If the sensor detects a drop in soil moisture, it sends a command to the base station which in turn opens either one outlet or both depending on how you programmed it. Although it’s admittedly complex to program – there are lots of different parameters to choose from – at least the front of the base station can be removed for easier access.

If you’re on the hunt for a comprehensive irrigation controller that will keep your garden in tip-top condition while you sit back and relax, then put this one high on your list of contenders. A single water outlet version is also available.

8. Vegepod Raised Garden Bed

A top planter for homegrown fruit and veg
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid

If you fancy the idea of growing your own fruit and veg but don’t have the space or the patience to maintain the plot and keep the plants protected against the elements, then this clever self-watering micro greenhouse from Australia could just be what you’re looking for. The whole package arrives in a large box and requires assembly which is quite time intensive and even a little tricky (thankfully, there are quite a few online instruction videos which we highly recommend watching).

The Vegepod is available in three sizes: small, medium and large. We received the small version which turned out to be bigger (39 x 20 inches) and taller (40 inches) – and a bit uglier – than we expected but still a perfect size for a small patio or balcony. It’s certainly big enough for a clutch of carrot plants and some lettuces, and tall enough to accommodate small tomato plants.

The Vegepod is comprised of a deep plastic trough with a growing depth of around 10 inches, a drainage section below, an integrated sprinkler that attaches to your garden hose, and a taught nylon net cover that lets just the right amount sunlight through while at the same time protecting the plants from pests. The optional stand is definitely worth getting if you can stretch the budget by another £49.

For best results, the manufacturer recommends filling the Vegepod with four 25-litre bags of good quality potting mix and one bag of cow manure. For even better results, replace one bag of potting mix with a bag of perlite which lightens the soil while retaining plenty of moisture.

The Vegepod isn’t some magical self-sustainability solution – it’s far too small for that – but it’s still a brilliantly novel way to grow a few of your own organic vegetables on your patio or balcony and then be able to boast about it.

Incidentally, if the standard Vegepod is too big for your needs, consider the patio-friendly VegeBag (available direct from Vegepod), a simple circular net container that opens like a pop-up tent. Simply fill the bottom area with soil, plant your crops and zip up the top to keep pests at bay. Available in two sizes (small 45x65cm and large 60x76cm), these protective mini grow pods are perfect for tomatoes, herbs and root vegetables. However, you have to attach an irrigation system or water the plants yourself.

The best garden watering systems, including automatic timers, irrigation systems and handy planters

The Best Drip Irrigation Systems for Your Garden

Treat yourself and your garden to one of these low-maintenance watering solutions—sure to make your neighbors green with envy!

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Keeping up with watering your garden can be a challenge. Vacations, busy schedules, and changing weather conditions can all leave flowers, veggies, and shrubs thirsty. But install one of the best drip irrigation systems, which are sold in kits containing all you need, and you’ll solve this common problem. Drip irrigation is a system of hoses, nozzles, sprinklers, and tubes that deliver the proper amount of water to each plant, which helps you avoid both under- and overwatering. The best drip irrigation systems, when set to a timer, water automatically, and they’re easy to install and maintain. You’ll even find drip irrigation systems geared toward different types of gardens. So keep reading to learn how these worry-free watering systems work and see our recommendations for some of the top-rated systems:

Types of Nozzles in Drip Irrigation Systems

Drip irrigation systems require several different emitter nozzles. Depending on your garden’s design and needs, some of these nozzles will be better suited than others. Before you attempt to plan out your irrigation system, familiarize yourself with the following types of emitter nozzles, each with strengths and weaknesses worth considering.

Micro-spray Sprinklers

Micro-spray sprinklers are helpful devices that can make the most of a low-pressure drip irrigation system. They install alongside taller plants or are used to hit a few plants with greater water needs while leaving less-needy plants alone. They’re designed with improved spray-range over other emitter-types with the same pressure. Construct micro-spray sprinklers from four pieces as follows:

  • Run a length of 1/4-inch tubing to the sprinkler’s desired location.
  • Attach tubing to a base with a stake driven into the ground.
  • Use a piece of stiff tubing to create a riser and attach it to the base.
  • Screw a micro-spray nozzle onto the end of the riser.

The riser allows the head to stand above taller plants and makes directing the spray easier. Micro-spray sprinkler heads often have built-in adjustable valves to control the spray.

Point-source Emitters

Often favored by landscape gardeners and great for plants that don’t do well with water on their leaves (like tomatoes and eggplants), point-source emitters are non-adjustable, preset nozzles that distribute a set amount of water to a plant per hour. They’re excellent for use with “satellite” plants in planters and hanging baskets, as well as sensitive vegetables. Point-source emitters can be installed via a few different methods:

  • Plugged directly into the main hose.
  • Installed under the plant with a length of tubing connecting to the main hose.
  • Plugged into the main hose with a length of tubing running to the plant.

Whichever way you install emitters, they’re usually preset at ½, 1, or 2 GPH (gallons per hour). You need to use a manufacturer’s chart to determine the correct nozzle for your particular plants. Too much water could drown plants that prefer to be a little dry, while too little water will stunt a plant’s potential.

In-line Drip Emitters

For those with a more laid-back approach to garden irrigation, in-line drip emitters are a fast and easy way to distribute H2O. These hoses are smaller in diameter than the main hose but may come in various lengths. Emitters are built into tubing throughout its length, allowing gardeners to weave the hose in between plants and provide water without putting a bunch of emitters in the main hose. This is a low-maintenance and leak-reducing irrigation method.

In-line drip emitter hose watering rates differ from point-source models, as they aren’t determined by GPH ratings. Generally speaking, in-line hoses come in 1/4-inch and 1/2-inch diameters, with spacing set between 6 and 12 inches. Check the manufacturer’s information to determine what you need for your particular gardening needs.

Basin Bubblers

A potentially useful addition to your drip irrigation system, basin bubblers are small, low-pressure sprinkler-style nozzles staked into the ground and connected to the drip system’s main hose. They spray water in a 360-degree pattern, hitting all the plants around them. They’re extremely helpful in a cluster of flowers and plants as they reduce the need for individual nozzles.

These bubblers hook to the main hose with a small length of tubing. They’re simple to install and reposition, and pressure adjustments are easy to make at any time. The bubblers’ heads screw in or out to throttle the water flow.

What to Consider When Buying a Drip Irrigation System

Now that you’re familiar with the different types of systems and emitters, you can focus on creating your garden’s ideal system. The size and type of garden, along with the type of soil and other factors, are worth noting and planning for. Here are some factors to keep in mind when buying a drip irrigation system.

Garden Size

The size of your garden will determine your system’s setup and the kit that you need. For smaller gardens, a single kit is often enough to install an effective drip irrigation system. Larger gardens may require additional lengths of tubing and emitters. You may even find that you’re better off with two separate systems that run at different times to different locations around your property.

Plant Types

Different plant species require different amounts of water. Depending on what you’re growing, you might have to get creative with a system of in-line and point-source emitters. One of the great values of a drip irrigation system is how flexible they are. If designed correctly, a single system can water a wide variety of plants.

Soil Type

There are six different types of soil—clay, sandy, silty, peaty, chalky, and loamy—all with varying nutrient contents and drainage characteristics. It’s important to understand the type of soil you have so you can choose the best drip irrigation system for your needs. Generally speaking, garden soil is a nice mixture of these soil types and tends to offer a good blend of nutrients and water-holding capabilities. If you’re watering raised or flower beds filled with garden soil, you shouldn’t have much issue making a drip irrigation system work for you.

Flow Rate

Once you’ve determined the plants and soil you have, you can figure out the plants’ water needs and choose the correct emitters.

Even plants with low water needs can suffer in fast-draining, fast-drying soils. In this case, you’ll need to increase the size of point-source emitters or use in-line tubing with closer emitter spacing. Consider a 1 GPH emitter or 9-inch spacing for these scenarios. You might even consider amending the soil with fertilizer or peat moss to increase nutrients and slow the drainage.

Plants with high water needs in poorly drained soils can also suffer if overwatered. If this is the situation in your garden, you may be better off purchasing half-gallon emitters or 12-inch spaced in-line tubing to help keep your plants from drowning. You might want to work some sand into the soil as well to increase drainage.

Pressure Compensation

The amount of pressure that flows through a drip irrigation system can fluctuate, depending on hose length and garden bed elevation, among other factors. This can cause emitters to flow differently than designed, with more or less water flow depending on pressure.

To combat this, the best drip irrigation system emitters are pressure compensating by design. They’ll emit the same amount of water regardless of the pressure at their inlet (where they attach to the main hose). They provide consistent watering conditions and ensure that all plants along the system stay watered.

Filters

You might not consider a filter important for your drip system—until you get a clog in your 1/4-inch tubing. Water systems often contain sediment, dirt, or even scaling from metal pipes, all of which can result in obstructions that limit water flow.

An in-line screen filter protects your system from these pressure-blocking particles. They install at the hose faucet and catch obstructions before they can make it into the system. If you notice water flow starting to reduce throughout your system, it’s a safe bet that you need to remove the screen and clean it out.

Self-Flushing Feature

Dirt, small insects, and other obstructions can make their way into a drip irrigation system through the emitters—and in-line screen filters can’t prevent these intruders. Some systems, however, come with automatic flush valves that help reduce the possibility of a clog. These valves install at the end of the system and will automatically open when the pressure in the system drops (like when the water shuts off). Residual water drains out of the system through these open valves, clearing some of the sediment that has collected.

Built-in Check Valves

The water to your home could be compromised if the water pressure suddenly drops when your drip system is running. In such a case, the hose faucet can back-feed water from the drip system into the house, resulting in a contaminated water system that isn’t safe to drink or use for bathing.

To reduce this risk, install a check valve in your system. These valves allow water to flow in one direction and shut off automatically when any backpressure occurs, or the pressure in the system behind it drops. If your drip irrigation system doesn’t come with a check valve, it’s important to purchase one and install it at the hose faucet.

Automatic Timers

Not all systems come with automatic timers, but most systems will benefit from one. These programmable valves turn on at a set time and run for a specific interval. You can choose the exact amount of water your system gets without activating the system manually. You’ll have remarkably consistent results in your garden, and you’ll be able to regulate your water usage perfectly. Plus, you needn’t remember to turn your system on or off.

Our Top Picks

These top picks for best drip irrigation systems factor in all the considerations mentioned above.

BEST OVERALL: king do way Drip Irrigation Garden Watering System

This excellent kit features 20 misting nozzles, 10 adjustable drippers, and 10 sprinkler emitters. It also includes all the tubing and fittings you’ll need to branch off and connect multiple plants. The only thing you’ll need that this kit doesn’t include is a timer. Purchase one separately to activate your DIY garden watering system at a particular time of day and run for a preset amount of time.

BEST VALUE: PATHONOR Drip Irrigation Kit

Drip irrigation costs can add up quickly. For homeowners looking for the best drip irrigation system on a budget, the well-priced PATHONOR kit features 50 feet of tubing (enough to cover a small garden), five nozzles, several three-way connectors, and stakes for holding the nozzles in place. It also has both universal and threaded hose connectors, making the kit flexible enough for various applications. The kit’s faucet connector, while threaded, isn’t high quality, however—and homeowners with high water pressure may find it pops off of the faucet. This could cause your garden to flood while the valve is open.

HONORABLE MENTION: Orbit Micro Bubbler Drip Irrigation Watering Kit

Watering containers can be tricky, but Orbit has figured out how to get the job done effectively with its Micro Bubbler Drip Irrigation Water Kit. It includes eight bubblers and all the necessary hoses and fittings to hook them up in pots and containers. The hose can hide behind a pot or run through it from the bottom. Either way will feed a bubbler to water an entire pot. The kit will cover 250 square feet, but it only has eight bubblers. For this reason, large, multiple container gardens may require more kits. Perhaps the best way to use this Orbit system is as an expansion kit for an already-installed system.

The Advantages of Owning a Drip Irrigation System

From easy installation to automatic watering to low maintenance, drip irrigation systems will help create a better garden space for your home.

Drip irrigation systems are easy to install because they require little to no digging. The main distribution hoses come in colors that match your mulch, and they tack into place with landscaping staples. The emitters install with barbed fittings that push into the distribution hose by hand. They can then be installed anywhere in the garden by inserting a stake into the ground.

Automatic watering is undoubtedly the biggest advantage of drip irrigation. When tied into an automatic timer, you can rest assured that your garden is getting water every day, whether you’re home or not. Also, by pairing the right emitter to the plants, you’ll know exactly how much water each is getting per hour.

Drip irrigation systems are low-maintenance. Simply flush the system any time you notice reduced flow and you’ll be back in business in no time. Even repairs are simple. If a hose breaks, simply cut either side of it and install a hose connector. Even homeowners with very little DIY experience can handle maintaining a drip irrigation system.

FAQs About Your New Drip Irrigation System

Because drip irrigation systems and their various parts may be unfamiliar to many people, here are some answers to the two most common questions folks often have about them.

Q. How do you install a drip irrigation system?

Irrigation systems are typically sold in kits with all the fittings needed to tie into your home’s hose faucet. Then it’s merely a matter of choosing how to run the main hoses and where you’d like your emitters to be. The emitters install along the main hose by poking their plastic barbed fittings wherever you choose, ideally near the plants you’d like watered.

Need to water your soil for the growing season? Here's a buying guide that will help you get the best drip irrigation system.